27 January 2017

Drop All Charges Against Palestinian Activist Rasmea Odeh!

Federal prosecutors have dangerously escalated the government’s political witchhunt against Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh. For more than three years Odeh, the Chicago-based associate director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), has been fighting bogus charges of immigration fraud. Last month, after her earlier conviction on those charges was overturned, her original trial judge, Gershwin Drain, ruled that Odeh must face a new trial. The Feds, hell bent on seeing her jailed and deported, have hit Odeh with a new indictment accusing her of having been involved in “terrorism.”

The government persecution of Odeh comes in the context of the ongoing “war on terror” witchhunts of immigrants, especially those of Near Eastern descent and Muslim background. The “terrorism” charges against Odeh, no less than the initial immigration charges, are simply a pretext to attack this prominent 69-year-old Palestinian rights activist and community organizer. In the words of the Rasmea Defense Committee, “The government is prosecuting Rasmea as part of a broader attack, the criminalization of the Palestine liberation movement.”

This has been a political hit job from Day One. Initially, Odeh’s alleged crime was failing to disclose on her 2004 naturalization application her 1969 frame-up conviction by an Israeli military tribunal. At her 2014 trial, federal prosecutors were given free rein to rehash the Israeli charge that Odeh had been involved in planting bombs at a supermarket and the British consulate in Jerusalem. Jurors were presented with scores of Israeli documents, including an alleged confession by Odeh. That “confession” was secured through prolonged torture, including rape and electric shock. However, at her trial Odeh was prohibited by federal judge Drain from testifying to her innocence of the Israeli charges—or even alluding to the torture—when she took the stand in her defense. Widespread torture by Zionist troops is well documented and it is obvious that there is no justice for Palestinians in Israeli military courts. According to Haaretz (29 November 2011), in 2010 such courts convicted 99.7 percent of Palestinians brought before them.

In particular, Drain barred expert testimony that Odeh suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of her brutal treatment at the hands of the Israeli state. That ruling sabotaged Odeh’s intended legal defense that her PTSD had caused her to omit the wrongful Israeli conviction when replying to the question on the naturalization form about prior imprisonment or arrest. But it also caused the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate Odeh’s conviction and send the case back to Judge Drain in February 2016. In December, Drain ordered a new trial, scheduled for May in Detroit, at which Odeh could present evidence of her PTSD. That would allow the heretofore-excluded testimony of Dr. Mary Fabri, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the selective memory loss associated with PTSD.

It was in response to the decision to allow such testimony that the Feds decided to make the case against Odeh no longer about allegedly false paperwork but about “terrorism.” Odeh is now accused of having “engaged in a terrorist activity” and having “associated with” the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular-nationalist organization designated by the U.S. State Department as “terrorist.” Never mind the fact that the PFLP was not deemed by Washington to be “terrorist” until 1997—twenty-eight years after Odeh’s alleged “association” with the organization.

Odeh has never sought to hide her past. After she was released in 1979 as part of a prisoner exchange, Odeh testified about her torture before a United Nations special committee in Geneva and various human rights organizations and media outlets. It was widely known by U.S. authorities that she had been convicted by an Israeli military court. As Odeh’s lead attorney, Michael Deutsch, stated: “The U.S. Embassy knew it, the State Department knew it, and Immigration should have known it.”

Odeh came to the attention of the Feds during a 2010 “war on terror” dragnet in Chicago and Minneapolis. The FBI raided the homes of a number of leftists and union activists, including supporters of the AAAN and Freedom Road Socialist Organization, for alleged “material support to terrorism”—in this case, solidarity with the struggles of the oppressed Palestinian people. Some two dozen people were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury, and all continue to live with the fear of indictment hanging over their heads. The campaign of intimidation and repression uncovered Odeh’s naturalized citizenship, leading Eric Holder’s Justice Department—with help from the Israeli government—to turn its fire on her.

The Obama government’s prosecution of Odeh will now be pursued by the administration of the openly anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim demagogue Donald Trump. Her ordeal underscores how “anti-terrorism” has been a pretext for the capitalist rulers’ attacks on basic democratic rights and is ultimately aimed at the left and labor movement.

We defend Odeh and other targets of such repression as part of our defense of the Palestinians as well as our opposition to the assault on democratic rights waged under the “war on terror,” even though as Marxists we do not share her Palestinian nationalist politics. We urge trade unions, activists and others to demand that all charges be dropped immediately! Funds are urgently needed for Odeh’s legal defense, to which the Partisan Defense Committee (a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League) has contributed. To donate, go to justice4rasmea.org/donate.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1104, 27 January 2017)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.